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On Walkabout On: The Kauai Plantation Railway

 Basic Information

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

Narrative

Whenever I would drive between Lihue and Poipu on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai I would always spot this Tudor mansion on the side of the road:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

I would eventually learn that the Tudor mansion was once the home of a wealthy sugarcane plantation owner named Gaylord Wilcox.  The plantation was called Kilohana.  Here is a brief history of the home from the Kilohana Plantation website:

In 1935, Gaylord Parke Wilcox, head of Grove Farm sugar plantation, decided to build his dream home with his wife, Ethel. He hired Mark Potter, an architect highly respected for his Diamond Head homes, to design the Tudor-style home that would become Kilohana. The 16,000 square foot mansion was the center of a 26,000 acre sugar tract and served as the family homestead for many generations.

The home was richly crafted with fine woods and Art Deco detailing. Lumber and materials arrived by barge from the West Coast, with detailed moldings from England. Beautiful pine wainscoting and coffered ceilings graced the living room, hallways, foyer, library and staircase. Hawaiian artifacts were proudly displayed along with rare artwork imported from the Orient and the island kingdoms of the Pacific. Upon completion it was the most expensive home ever built on Kauai and it served as both a working homestead and host to many exuberant social gatherings and important diplomatic meetings.

Since the end of the sugar industry on Kauai the plantation has converted itself into a tourist destination.  The Kilohana Plantation today operates the only railroad on the island called the Kauai Plantation Railway:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

As we walked towards the train depot we stopped to take a look at the beautifully restored train engine and cars:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

The ride on the train is 40 minutes long and the ticket prices are a bit high for just a 40 minute ride.  However, in Hawaii most tourist stops like this are expensive so everyone has to make their own decision if a train ride through an old sugarcane plantation is worth the money.  For my family and I it was, so we happily went over to the train depot to buy our tickets:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

At the train depot they had plenty of markers explaining the history of trains on Kauai:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

The first use of trains in Hawaii began back in 1879 on Oahu.  The use of steam powered trains spread to Kauai two years later in 1881 when the Kilauea Plantation installed three miles of track to access their sugarcane fields.  Before the installation of the track oxcarts were used by the workers to move the supplies and sugarcane to and from the fields.  A railroad that connected the sugarcane fields to the processing mill greatly increased the efficiency of the plantation’s operations.  The rail lines would eventually expand to connect the sugar mills to the ports where the processed sugar would be loaded on boats to be exported abroad.  As time went on the plantations replaced their old steam locomotives with diesel engines in the 1920’s which further increased the efficiency of their operations:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

As truck transportation powered by gasoline improved; the plantations slowly began to purchase large trucks to haul workers, supplies, and sugarcane to and from the fields in.  These trucks proved to be a more efficient means of transportation for the plantations than the trains.  The last train on Kauai which was being operated by the Lihue Plantation ceased operations in 1959.  Today the railroad is back on Kauai, but instead of hauling sugarcane it is hauling tourists, which we were proudly one of.

So after buying our tickets we took our seats inside one of the beautifully restored train cars:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

The train travels around the plantations property allowing visitors to see the various crops and livestock that have replaced what was once sugarcane fields.  Here is a map from the Kilohana Plantation website that shows the route the train takes through the property:

As the train goes through the plantation the riders on the train get introduced to all the various crops now grown on the plantation:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

Due to the incredible soil of Hawaii, just about anything can be grown here which allows a wide diversity of crops on the plantation:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

Besides crops there are also a lot of livestock on the plantation as well:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

There is even a stop on the train route where people can disembark and check out a field filled with pigs:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

There is even an opportunity for visitors, especially the kids to feed the pigs:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

The kids on the train were especially having fun feeding the baby pigs:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

All this stop did was make me hungry for bacon so I was happy once the train started to leave so I can get a bacon cheeseburger somewhere.  Here is a picture I took as the train left the pig station:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

As the trained continued through the plantation we next passed this old wagon out in the field:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

It would have been wagons like this pulled by oxen that was the original transportation in the sugarcane fields before the arrival of steam powered trains.  Fittingly the train passed through a section of sugarcane which at one time covered the vast majority of the farmland on Kauai:

Picture from the Kauai Plantation Railway

Conclusion

All in all my family had fun on the train, but considering the cost it is a bit of a short train ride.  This makes the Kauai Plantation Railway something that I can recommend for everyone visiting the island to checkout, but for those with kids or like riding tourist trains they will likely find the Kauai Plantation Railway to be a fun way to spend an hour on Kauai.

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